Amateur Radio Operators Active during Severe Tornado Breakout in Northwestern Ohio
During the early overnight hours of Saturday, June 5 through Sunday, June 6, severe weather and tornadoes ripped across an area of Northwestern Ohio, laying a large path of destruction. ARES® and SKYWARN groups in Erie, Huron, Sandusky and Wood Counties activated nets as early as 10:30 PM Saturday, with many not standing down until 4:30 AM the next day. According to ARRL Ohio Section Manager Frank J. Piper, KI8GW, traffic on the nets was filled with reports of severe weather damage, flooding and downed power lines.
In Wood County, ARES Emergency Coordinator Bob Schumann, W8NYY, reported that the severity of the damage quickly became apparent with the frequency of the reports coming in during a 15 minute window shortly before midnight on Saturday. Tony Everhardt, N8WAC, and Assistant Emergency Coordinator Ed Brown, K8ZCS, gave on-site reports of severe damage to Lake High School, located in Millbury. Everhardt reported that he was able to see the funnel cloud only when electrical transformers began exploding and lighting up the sky. Brown added that there were broken natural gas lines and downed power lines in the area as well, requiring Schumann to recall weather spotters from the area for their own safety. Hams relayed continuous reports on the net of telephone poles and power lines down blocking roads; live electrical wires were an immediate danger.
During the early morning hours, Schumann spoke with Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasyslyshyn concerning the state of communications. Wasyslyshyn advised Schumann he was setting up a temporary command center across from the Lake Township Police Department; that building had been heavily damaged by the tornado. The sheriff and Schumann decided to deploy the Wood County Amateur Radio Emergency Service trailer, as the trailer had a supply of police band radios, as well as a generator and Amateur Radio equipment.
Early Sunday morning, Wasyslyshyn reported that communications had been restored to Lake Township via temporary equipment. Many Wood County ARES® members remained on standby in case they were needed at a later time. The nets stood down at approximately 4:30 AM.
Schumann said he is very proud of the work that was performed by the hams of Wood County, and thanks them for their dedication: “It’s my hope that their dedication was responsible for the reports that ultimately sounded the sirens, which indeed saved lives.”
District Emergency Coordinator George Henzler, WB8HHZ, maintained contact with Ohio Section Emergency Coordinator Jack Sovik, KB8WPZ, during the time of the incident, as is outlined in the Ohio Section Emergency Response Plan. Sovik told the ARRL that “the professionalism of the ARES® members, working in conjunction with the National Weather Service and their SKYWARN program, as per the written Memorandum of Understanding, saved lives and kept the National Weather Service and the public appraised of the situation that was developing in the immediate affected areas.”